Emotional rescue: AI app interprets feelings of the nonverbal

A healthcare AI startup spawned from academia has launched an app to help caregivers understand the emotional state of individuals who are minimally verbal due to such conditions as autism, brain injury and dementia.

SeamlessCare, spun out from the school of mechanical and materials engineering at University College Dublin in Ireland, says the app, called Empathic, supports those caring for people whose functional vocabularies range from zero words to 20.

In announcing the app’s release, company CEO and cofounder Aviva Cohen, PhD, recalls her years as a caregiver to her late husband, Steve, who became nonverbal after suffering a severe stroke. Cohen cites the experience as a key inspiration behind the development of Empathic.  

“Over time I learned to understand him, but it was always difficult for carers, friends and family to know how he was feeling,” Cohen says in the announcement, posted jointly by UC Dublin and SeamlessCare. “Two years of development and testing have shown that Empathic could have a significant impact on the quality of life for non-verbal people as well as their families and others who provide support.”

SeamlessCare says healthcare providers as well as families tend to have just one person who can accurately interpret the feelings of an individual with severe verbal limitations. The Empathic app is designed to help anyone else translate various cues into expressions of up to 10 emotions—happiness, boredom, frustration and so on.

This can help improve quality of life for nonverbal persons, especially those prone to frustration, while helping caregivers maintain a calm and positive environment, SeamlessCare suggests.

The company trained the app’s AI algorithm on “thousands” of vocalizations from nonverbal people, according to the announcement.

“The AI is built exclusively on recordings from people who cannot use fluent language; in this way it differs from software that detects emotion in general conversation,” the company says.

Cohen adds that nonverbal people are among the most technologically underserviced of all those with disabilities.

SeamlessCare says Empathic is HIPAA-compliant and available in commercial app stores for around 10 euros ($10.60) per month.

UC Dublin announcement here, more on the app from SeamlessCare here.

Dave Pearson

Dave P. has worked in journalism, marketing and public relations for more than 30 years, frequently concentrating on hospitals, healthcare technology and Catholic communications. He has also specialized in fundraising communications, ghostwriting for CEOs of local, national and global charities, nonprofits and foundations.

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